Sunday, February 28, 2016

Box Breaks From Jay

I've been meaning to get to this for a bit but life has had other plans (as usual).  Jay Shelton has picked up a couple unopened boxes recently and sent me photos and statistics.

First up is a "light pack" box from the 2003 BBM 1st Version set.  I've talked about the "Light Pack" boxes a bit in the past but in a nutshell they are packs with half the number of cards than the regular packs at an MSRP of half the price.  In the case of the 2003 1st Version set, the packs contained 5 cards at a price of 100 yen a pack rather than the standard 10 cards for 200 yen a pack.  The "Light Pack" boxes contained only a subset of the base set (only the player cards and the Leader subset) and none of the parallels, insert cards or memorabilia cards available in the "standard" boxes, but there were parallels and insert cards that were only found in the "Light Pack" boxes.  For the 2003 1st Version set, 60 of the player cards had "kira" parallels and all the Leader subset cards have a "silver" parallel.  There was also a 2 card "MVP" insert set featuring the 2002 MVPs (Hideki Matsui and Alex Cabrera).  (More details and examples can be seen here).

The box contained 20 packs total.  As I mentioned above, each pack had five cards.  Of those five cards, one of them was either a "kira" card or a "silver" Leader card.  I'm not sure that any non-"silver" Leader cards were actually available in the boxes.  So there's 100 cards in the box.  Jay got 88 unique cards plus 12 doubles.  Of the 88 cards, 70 were player cards, nine were "kira" parallels and nine were "silver" Leader cards.  Of the 12 doubles, one was a "silver" Leader card, one was a "kira" parallel and the rest were regular cards.

Here's Jay's photos of the box:

Jay also opened a "Light Pack" box of the 2003 BBM 2nd Version set.  This one had 20 packs containing four cards each (BBM had cut the number of cards in their "standard" packs to 9 for this set - it would go to eight in 2004).  Like before, one of the cards would be a "special" card.  The "Light Pack" boxes again only contained a subset of the base set (the player cards) and parallel versions of the "Opening Game" and "Record Achievement" inserts.  None of the parallels, inserts (other than the parallel versions) or memorabilia cards from the "standard" boxes were available in them.  Once again 60 of the player cards had "kira" parallels and once again there was a two card "MVP" insert set.  (And again there are more details here.)

Of the 80 cards in the box, Jay got 75 unique cards - 57 player cards, 12 "kira" parallels, five "Opening Game" cards and one "Record Achievement" card.  Two of the five duplicates were "kira" cards (and actually were the same card!).  Here's some photos that he sent:

The final box Jay opened was from one of the 2011 Bandai Owners League sets.  I think that Bandai issues four of these sets a year.  The 2010 ones were labeled 01-04, the 2011 ones were labeled 05-08, etc.  This is from the set labeled "06" so I think it was the second one issued in 2011.  There were 20 3 card packs in the box for a total of 60 cards.  Of those 60 cards, Jay got 58 unique cards.  There were 144 cards in the set but some of them are short printed.  There are at least two different types of short print - "Star" and "Super Star".  Of the 58 unique cards Jay got, 49 were "regular" card, five were "Star" cards and four were "Super Star" cards.  The "regular" cards could have either a black or white border - I don't know if there's some significance to that.

Here's Jay's photos:

Thanks for the information and pictures Jay!

Card Of The Week February 28

I picked up a menko card of Shigeo Nagashima off of Ebay recently.  The card is from an uncataloged set from around 1973.  Here's the front and back of the card:

What's significant about this card is that the picture on it was swiped from a 1973 Calbee card (#5):

Ryan had mentioned in a comment a while back that it's not uncommon for unlicensed cards to be made today using all sorts of available images.  I guess this has been going on for quite a while.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Card Of The Week February 21

I'm slowly trying to catch up on everything so that I can do the next "Uniform History" post (next up is the Orix Buffaloes) but I am also trying to back-fill some of the earlier posts when I discover or get a card that shows a uniform that I didn't cover before.  I just realized that I should be paying more attention to BBM's high end sets as they occasionally will have cards using uniforms that didn't show up in other issues.  For example in 2011 the Hanshin Tigers used a "turn-back-the-clock" uniform for a number of games (it may have been the "Great Central" promotion where all the Central League teams wore retro uniforms but I'm not sure).  I didn't include this uniform when I did my post on the Tigers' uniforms since I didn't have a card showing it.  On Ebay recently I came across a Matt Murton card from the 2011 BBM Touch The Game set (#072) that showed the uniform and snatched it up.  Here's the card (and I've already updated the Tigers post with it):

I need to go back and check all the high end issues and see if any of the other uniforms I didn't have coverage for are represented there.

Package From Ryan

I love getting packages in the mail from Ryan of This Card Is Cool.  Ryan is always on the lookout for stuff for me and he's pretty good about finding it.  And sometimes he picks up stuff that he figures I'd be interested in, even if I haven't said anything.  And he's usually right - I am interested in it.  So packages from Ryan always contain good stuff - some things that I know I'm getting and some things that are a surprise.

The package I got from him yesterday was no exception.  I'd been eagerly awaiting this package since he told me he'd be shipping me stuff when he was back in the States in early February AND since he'd found a couple cards that I was looking for from the 2000 Upper Deck Olympics set (that he busted a couple boxes of a few months back).  Sure enough, there were two of the five cards of the baseball team that I don't have in the box:

2000 Upper Deck Olympics #229

2000 Upper Deck Olympics #220
The card of Akahoshi is especially cool as it is one of the rare "pre-rookie" cards of a player in Japan.  Akahoshi was playing for JR East of the industrial leagues when he was selected for the Olympic team - he wasn't drafted by the Tigers until October of 2000.

I ask Ryan to track down opened box sets for me as they can generally be had extremely cheaply - frequently 500 yen or less - but that price skyrockets when I have to pay kuboTEN fees.  Ryan found three box sets for me - one he'd been looking for for most of 2015 but the other two were released late in the year.

In January of every year since 2011 BBM has published a box set commemorating the players who have retired during the previous year.  I usually refer to this set as "Farewell" but the translation of the title is more along the lines of "Regret at Parting Ball Players".  Last year's set contained 36 cards celebrating the careers of 32 players (four players - Atsunori Inaba, Makoto Kaneko, Alex Ramirez and Tomoya Satozaki - had two cards each in the set).  The photos in the set are usually action shots from when the player was active (and may be from a year previous to last year) or from their retirement ceremony.  Beyond the players mentioned already, the set includes cards for Masao Kida, Shugo Fujii, GG Satoh, Yoshinori Tateyama and Tomochika Tsuboi.

2015 BBM Farewell #09

2015 BBM Farewell #13
Hrioki Kuroda's return to Japan and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp last year was documented in a box set called "Homecoming" that was released in November.  It's an 18 card set and each card appears to commemorate some event from the 2015 season.  There's a card for each of the 11 wins he got and for reaching some milestones (like his 500th game between MLB and NPB).

2015 BBM Homecoming #12

2015 BBM Homecoming #18
Epoch published a Dragons box set in November as some sort of cross promotion with Mizuno.  The set was called "Chunichi Dragons X Mizuno" and was very similar to some similarly named sets that Front Runner put out in 2014.  In fact the "R" symbol to indicate a rookie was identical in this set to the symbol used on the Front Runner cards.  The set has 24 cards but only featured 12 players.  Each player has two cards in the set.  The set includes Masahiro Yamamoto, Kazuhiro Wada, Michihiro Ogasawara, Masahiro Araki, Takuya Asao and Daisuke Yamai.

Epoch Chunichi Dragons X Mizuno #01

Epoch Chunichi Dragons X Mizuno #15
Lastly, Ryan included a handful of loose cards from a couple Front Runner box sets that I didn't have.  He sent four cards from the 2014 Lions Signature Edition set (including one of Takeya Nakamura, one of my favorite players) and ten cards from the 2015 Giants Game Used Bat set (which was similar to the Dragons X Mizuno set in that it had two cards for each player in the set).

2014 Front Runner Lions Signature Edition #04

2015 Front Runner Giants Game Used Bat Edition #02

2015 Front Runner Giants Game Used Bat Edition #09
Ryan sent out a number of packages when he was back in the States.  Jason got some cool stuff from him as well.

Thanks as always Ryan!  And let me know what I owe you for these!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

2001 Hawks Official Fan Club Set

I want to quickly mention that I got a couple cards from the 2001 Fukuoka Daiei Hawks Official Fan Club card set.  Jason listed eight of these in his mongo team issue post from a few years back but the four I got aren't on the list.

I have the following:

15 Hiroshi Nagadomi
30 Rodney Pedraza
48 Yusuke Torigoe
51 Hiroki Kokubo

Here's the front and back of the Kokubo card:

Yuma, the Swallows and the Arizona Winter League

As I mentioned previously, I was in Yuma, Arizona on business in late January and early February.  Before going there, I didn't really know much about the city.  I only kind of vaguely even know where it was - somewhere in the southwest corner of the state (it turns out it's in a little bump on the Arizona border that's kind of odd - it's south of California and east of Mexico).  About all I really knew about it is that once upon a time the Yakult Swallows did spring training there and the only reason that I know that was because of this card from the 2007 BBM Atsuya Furuta Memorial set (#17):

I did a little research and I discovered that what is now called the Ray Kroc Baseball Complex was the original spring training home of the San Diego Padres.  In some ways Yuma was an idea spring training home for the team as it's only 170 miles east of San Diego - pretty much all on Interstate 8.  Unfortunately it's also about 170 miles from Phoenix where most of the rest of the Cactus League trained which made for long road trips for the team so after 1993, the team moved to a new spring training home at the Peoria Sports Complex near Phoenix, the same facilities that the Fighters used earlier this month.

After doing a little more research I discovered that the Padres were well acquainted with sharing their spring training facilities with a Japanese team.  The Swallows had trained in Yuma for about 20 years, from the late 1970's until the late 1990's.  That picture of Furuta could have been taken any year from 1990 (his rookie season) until 1998 (the Swallows' last year in Yuma) - although the thick red cuff on his jersey identifies a style the Swallows wore from 1990 to 1993 so I can narrow it down a little more.

Armed with this knowledge, I thought it would be fun to drive out to the complex (if it still existed) and get a picture of the water tower (if it still existed) from the same perspective.  If nothing else I figured I could get a "Card Of The Week" post out of it (despite having already used this card in one  last year).  It turns out that the complex (and the water tower) still exist so on the first Sunday that I was in town, I drove over to get a picture.

As you can see, I got the picture of the water tower.  But as you can also see, the field was in use.  I had noticed, of course, that there were a bunch of players on the field as I walked up and I briefly wondered if one of the Korean teams that I had heard was training in Arizona was actually training in Yuma rather than Phoenix or Tucson.  I stopped someone kind of official looking and asked what the players were there for.  I was told that it was spring training for the Arizona Winter League which, of course, lead to a whole bunch of other questions.

In a nutshell, the Arizona Winter League is essentially an extended tryout camp for unsigned players.  There were a hundred or so players on the fields of the complex, working out for a number of coaches.  After two days of workouts, the players would be "drafted" into six teams that would play a 17 game season between February 3rd and the 24th which would allow scouts to view the players in game situations.  The six teams were somewhat misleading named the Edmonton Capitals, the El Paso Tejanos, the Laredo Apaches, the Pericos de Puebla, Team Canada and the Yuma Wranglers.  I say misleadingly as obviously no one was playing any home games anywhere but Yuma and Team Canada actually had no Canadians on it.  I kind of got the feeling that the six teams were basically what uniforms the league had available.

The players for the league come from a wide variety of backgrounds.  A few have experience in major league organizations, a few more have some experience in the independent minors while the vast majority of them are former college and high school players.  There are a couple 19 year olds and two pitchers in their 40's but most of the players appear to be in their mid to late 20s.  The only name that seemed vaguely familiar to me was Todd Gossage whose father is Hall Of Fame (and former Fukuoka Daiei Hawk) pitcher Rich Gossage.  Some of the players had been through the Arizona Winter League in previous years (the league has actually played every year since 2007 although I believe the last two were actually held in San Antonio, not Yuma).

What I was most intrigued about the league was that there were a handful of Japanese players involved.  Once the rosters were published, I quickly went through them to see if there were any familiar names, any former NPB player trying to continue his career in America?  I was disabused of this pretty quickly.  None of the names looked familiar and none of them had spent any time in NPB, at least according to Baseball-Reference.  I asked Deanna Rubin to take a look figuring if anyone was going to know who any of these guys were, it would be her.  She didn't recognize anyone off the top of her head but she did a little bit of research and found some information about some of the guys.

Here's the list of the Japanese players with what the rosters that they handed out at the games said about them (the EXP column):

Name Team DOB EXP
Abe, Yoshiya Yuma Wranglers 5/12/1991 INT - College In Japan
Aoyama, Kazuaki Edmonton Capitals 10/8/1979 INT - Japanese Club Team
Ehata, Shuya Edmonton Capitals 2/8/1992 INT - Japanese Club Team
Fukaya, Genki Team Canada 12/19/1993 INT - Japanese Club Team
Hashimoto, Naoki El Paso Tejanos 6/7/1990 AFF - Cleveland Indians (R), TWL
Iwasaki, Koya Laredo Apaches 7/1/1993 INT - Japanese Club Team
Kaneda, Kyohei Edmonton Capitals 12/8/1992 INT - College In Japan
Kotabe, Takeshi Pericos de Puebla 11/6/1992 INT - Japanese Club Team
Kunitomi, Tatsuhiro El Paso Tejanos 2/11/1993 INT - Keio University, CWL
Kusama, Satoru Edmonton Capitals 5/15/1993 CO - Clackamas CC
Machita, Takanori El Paso Tejanos 10/14/1978 INT - Auburn Orioles (Australian), 2014 TWL
Maeda, Yuki Yuma Wranglers 8/30/1993 INT - Tohoku Tech University (Japan)
Motoyama, Takayoshi Edmonton Capitals 9/2/1991 INT - Japanese Club Team
Muraki, Yoshimitsu Edmonton Capitals 9/15/1980 INT - Japanese Club Team
Sakaguchi, Fumitaka Team Canada 4/26/1991 INT - Oceans 9 (Indy Japan), Kobe Sound (Indy Japan), Puerto Rico Winter Ball, Ishikawa Millon Stars (Japan)
Sanogawa, Ryo Yuma Wranglers 4/23/1993 INT - Japanese Club Team
Shirakashi, Shota Team Canada 9/28/1992 INT - Japan, 2012 AWL
Shiroto, Hayate Edmonton Capitals 5/25/1994 INT - Japanese Club Team
Sugi, Naomichi Pericos de Puebla 11/24/1990 INT - Fukui Miracle Elephants (Japan Indy), Niigata Albirex
Takahashi, Shion Edmonton Capitals 9/13/1996 INT - Japanese Indy Team

With Deanna's help, I've found out a little about a couple of these guys.  Naoki Hashimoto made 13 appearances with the Indians Arizona League team in 2013 and 2014.  His Japanese Wikipedia page says that he went to PL Gakuen high school (becoming the ace pitcher after Kenta Maeda was drafted), dropped out to join the NOMO baseball team, went to Hannan University for a couple years before dropping out to join the Kobe Sands of the Kansai Independent League in 2012.  After spending most of 2013 with the Indians, he pitched in one game for the Kishu Rangers, also from the Kansai Independent League.  He returned to the Indians for only one game in 2014, then joined the Fukui Miracle Elephants of the Baseball Challenge (BC) League.  He spent 2015 with the 06Bulls of the Baseball First League.  It looks like he failed a tryout with the Kagawa Olive Guyners of the Shikoku Island League last fall.  Tatsuhiro Kunimoto appeared in one game in his four years at Keio University - he did not get an at bat.  Naomichi Sugi is another former NOMO baseball team member in addition to his stints with Niigata and Fukui.  I found 2013 stats for Satoru Kusama with both Clackamas Community College and the Portland Toros of something called the West Coast League Portland.  Kazuaki Aoyama, Takanori Machita and Yoshimitsu Muraki are all in their late 30's and I wonder if they are all industrial league veterans who decided to try their luck over here.

There are three games played every day.  There are two games in the morning (10 AM during the week and 11 AM on the weekend) and one game in the afternoon (1 PM during the week and 2 PM on the weekend officially but the afternoon game usually starts soon after the morning game ends).  My work schedule for the week the league started originally looked like it was going to accommodate going to the morning games as I didn't need to be at work until 3 PM that week but I ended up only getting to games on February 3rd (Opening Day) and February 6th.  I needed to come in early on the 4th and 5th, the league was off on the 7th and I left Yuma on the 8th.

I mentioned before that the league had spent the last two years in Texas rather than Yuma.  While the league was gone, Desert Sun Stadium, the main ballpark at the complex was converted into a soccer stadium.  From what the office manager for the league told me, it sounded like the outfit that converted the stadium to soccer had intended to bring a team to Yuma but had gone bankrupt before it happened.  So now there's a very nice soccer stadium that no one is using and the AWL had to play on a couple of the practice fields that were only maybe a hundred feet apart.  Foul balls from one game could (and did) land on the field of the other.  The stands were small metal bleachers with maybe five benches placed behind the foul screen between the dugouts and home plate.

Tickets for the games were $5 or you could buy a season pass for $20.  Considering the facilities they weren't drawing too badly.  Yuma has a large population of snowbirds from Canada and the league is a cheap diversion for a lot of them.  There was one couple from Saskatchewan I spoke to both days I was there who told me that they were rooting for Team Canada even though there were no Canadians on it.  Of course, at this point they're really only rooting for laundry.

The games were interesting although frequently lopsided (one of the issues with leagues of this type and independent baseball in general is that if the pitchers were any good, they wouldn't be here).  Due to the lack of crowd noise it was easy to hear the players and coaches talking to each other.  It was also easy to hear Marky Billson, the voice of the Arizona Winter League, doing play by play for the league's internet radio broadcasts from basically a card table set up behind home plate at one of the fields.  There was no PA announcer at the park so pretty much the only way to know who a player was at times was to listen to him.  That's when he knew - sometimes he'd leave his table and run over to the dugout to find out who someone was.  

Here are some pictures I took at the games:

Sign for the complex

Only advertisement I saw for the league
The "broadcast booth" for the league

Ozzie Canseco is one of the coaches for the league

Marky Billson asking Canseco about a player's name

Evidence that the Swallows had actually once played here
I tried to get pictures of the Japanese players.  I didn't get a lot of them but I did get some.  I felt kind of like a stalker actually.

Yoshimitsu Muraki of Edmonton

Pretty sure this is Takayoshi Motoyama of Edmonton

Shion Takahashi of Edmonton

Takeshi Kotabe of Pericos de Puebla

Naomichi Sugi of Pericos de Puebla

Yuki Maeda of Yuma
There's two other pictures of Japanese players that have a little story behind them.  While I watched the El Paso - Yuma game on February 6th, I became aware of a bit of a commotion in the bullpen area.  El Paso pitcher Naoki Takahashi was warming up.  The coach was asking him how fast he could throw like that and it took me a second to realize that Takahashi was warming up left handed.  Which isn't a big deal unless you happened to know that he's a right handed pitcher.  I don't know if he's pitched at all in the league as a lefty but it was fun watching him throw.

I had struggled some during the El Paso-Yuma game to try to get a good picture of Tatsuhiro Kunitomi.  The sight lines at the ballpark were pretty bad for getting pictures due to the cyclone fencing between the bleachers and the fields.  So I decided that I'd actually approach him after the game to get a picture.

I told him I had a friend who was a Keio fan and he expressed surprise that anyone in the US had heard of Keio.  We spoke for a few minutes - his English wasn't very good but it was much better than my meager (and that's being very generous) Japanese - and I wished him good luck.  What was entertaining about this is that one of Kunitomi's Keio teammates is Akihiro Hakumura of the Fighters.  Deanna told him that Kunitomi was in Yuma on Monday in Peoria and on Tuesday we showed him this picture.

And speaking of the Fighters, I was somewhat surprised to see that on the off day they had the day after the exhibition game that Ohtani pitched (the day I was finally going home), manager Hideki Kuriyama made the three hour drive down to Yuma to visit the AWL!  And actually it makes some amount of sense as Kuriyama played for the Swallows from 1984 to 1990 and would have trained with them in Yuma.

The league has another couple days before the "regular" season ends.  There will be playoffs this coming Friday and Saturday with the Championship Game on Sunday.  It will be interesting to see who gets signed out of the league and if any of the Japanese players end up in any major league organizations.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Takahiro Mahara

Former Hawks and Buffaloes pitcher Takahiro Mahara had announced his retirement back in early December but for some reason I didn't realize it until recently.

Mahara was taken by the then Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in the "free agent phase" of the fall 2003 draft out of Kyushu Kyoritsu University.  He debuted with the team as a starter in 2004 before taking over the closer role in 2005.  He remained the Hawks closer through the 2011 season, missing some time in 2008 due to shoulder injury.  His shoulder caused him to miss some time again in 2011 and then the entire 2012 season.  After the 2012 season, he was chosen by Orix as compensation for the Hawks signing Hayato Terahara as a free agent.  Injuries again plagued him in two of the three seasons he spent with the Buffaloes although he had a pretty good season in middle relief for them in 2014.

He led the Pacific League in saves with 38 in 2007.  He made the All Star team three times (2006-07 & 2010).  He played for the Japan National Team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.  He appeared in one Nippon Series (2011, his final appearances with the Hawks).

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #1

2004 BBM 1st Version #25

2006 BBM All Stars #A06

2009 Calbee #049

2009 Bowman Chrome #BCW47

2011 BBM Nippon Series #S02

2012 BBM Hawks #H04

2013 BBM The Trade Stories #87

2015 BBM Buffaloes #Bs10